Water on everyone’s mind
Driving back to the Schuylkill Center from Center City last Friday, water was on my mind, as that was the day of the soaking monsoon last week, a dreary downpour that started in the morning commute and continued well past lunchtime. Driving up Henry Avenue in the right lane, I almost lost my car in an oceanic puddle near the Walnut Lane Golf Club, the golf course just south of Walnut Lane. I swear some kid could have surfed in the wake my car made.
I wondered howmany other puddles of that magnitude had formed up and down the region. And how many basements were flooding. And how brown and roiling the Schuylkill’s waters were by then. And how downhill Manayunk was faring that moment. And how much more soil my Schuylkill Center had lost in a ravine being cut through our property by stormwater runoff pouring down Port Royal Avenue.
Looks like water is on everyone’s mind at the moment. Because on the evening of Thursday, May 11, Roxborough and Manayunk residents have a choice of two important water-related events, one a Water Town Hall, the other a public meeting of the city’s Flood Risk Management Task Force.
In the first, Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. and the Philadelphia Water Department invite residents of the councilman’s Fourth District to a Water Town Hall, where you can interact directly with Philadelphia Water staff, including Commissioner Debra Mc- Carty, the department’s head, and its public affairs general manager, Roxborough’s own Joanne Dahme. Held in the Sharon Baptist Church on Conshohocken Avenue in Wynnefield Heights and starting at 6 p.m., you can ask about your water bill, of course, and its emergency loan program, but you can also ask questions about drinking water quality, the city’s ambitious “Green City, Clean Waters” plan, planned construction in your neighborhood and more.
I might ask about how green infrastructure addresses stormwater in a completely new way, as the city has focused intense creative energy on stormwater in the last very few years. In fact, I’d love for you to use the phrase “green infrastructure” in the meeting and watch PWD faces light up — they LOVE talking about this topic, as this is one where Philadelphia is truthfully a global leader.
As for me, I’m curious how the city is continuing to plan its mitigation of the effects of climate change on our water systems, especially as the Delaware River, and presumably the Schuylkill as well, will rise as our oceans do. Yup, the Delaware is tidal, has already been rising slowly and will continue to do so — I’ve seen maps of the near-future where the airport has disappeared beneath the Delaware River. Penn’s Landing might become problematic, too.
And as data continues to show that because of climate change the city will have more, larger storms like Friday’s super soaker, how does this influence the “Green City, Clean Waters” plan? Is the plan changing, adapting with the science and the modeling?
Speaking of flooding, at the exact same moment as the Water Town Hall on Thursday, the city’s Flood Risk Management Task Force will hold one of its public meetings, this one in the Venice Island Performing Arts and Recreation Center, a perfect match of event and site as the arts center was built atop a complicated mechanism for holding onto Manayunk’s floodwater — a creative solution to help prevent Yunkers from being flooded out, as, sitting alongside the Schuylkill and downhill from so much impervious pavement, they so often were. “When and why does Manayunk flood?” asks the flier. “What can residents and businesses do to better prepare themselves? And what is the task force doing about flooding?”
And if you want to make this panel’s eyes light up, ask them about impervious pavement, as that is our largest issue with water. In cities and increasingly in suburbs, we have covered the ground with hard surfaces that prevent water from percolating underground, so all of our roads, parking lots, rooftops, driveways and more shunt water across the surface, where it finds a storm drain — and flows to a stream like the Wissahickon or a river like the Schuylkill immediately and without treatment. And because the water picks up such speed, it demolishes stream and river beds, eroding them and churning the sediment, turning our waterways the unhealthy coffee color you see after storms.
It is a shame that both the Water Town Hall and the task force public meeting, very closely related events, are occurring on the same night, pulling us in two different direc- tions, but there we are.
Water is quickly emerging as one of the prominent environmental worries of this era, right up there with climate change, which garners the lion’s share of the press. But with the record Midwest floods of last week framing the importance of this issue, Northwest Philly residents have two smart places to learn more about water.
Hope you join me in choosing one of them — I’ll be heading to the town hall to listen to your questions about water. As your neighbor, I’d like to learn more about what’s on your mind.
And right now, water is on everyone’s mind.
The Shawmont Swale at Eva Street and Summit Avenue is part of the city’s “Green City, Clean Waters” plan, as it holds onto stormwater after a rain event, allowing water to slowly percolate underground instead of flooding the nearby Green Tree Run stream.